Encountering Jesus: How a Disgraced Woman Was Changed
For many reasons, there has been some degree of upheaval in most, if not all, of our lives this year. It has led me to ask the question, “How is the gospel good news to everyone right now?”
I’ve been reflecting on how the embodied gospel brings life-change to those who encounter Jesus and how necessary the gospel is now. It isn’t just a conceptual message we can set aside once we are saved. No, Christians become the hands and feet of Jesus, our gospel witness is demonstrated in both proclamation and in our good works. We should be daily grabbing onto the gospel, bringing it into our reality to see transformation.
The encounter between Jesus and the Samaritan woman is an excellent example of this kind of gospel transformation. Let’s take a look.
An Encounter with Jesus
In John 4, Jesus departed for Galilee from Judea. In those days, it was not uncommon for strict Jews to cross the Jordan river and head to Judea by bypassing the region of Samaria. Both the Jews and the Gentiles disdained the Samaritans because they were a racially mixed group. The Jewish perspective was that the Samaritans assimilated too much into a non-Jewish culture and were defiled. There were racial and ethnic issues that led Jews and Gentiles alike to marginalize the Samaritans. Jesus, however, had no problem going right into the heart of the region and walking amongst the Samaritans. He took the shorter route straight through the region and stopped near the town of Sychar.
Weary from the journey, Jesus decided to rest next to a well while the disciples went to find some food. It was about noon, the hottest time of day, when a Samaritan woman came to the well to draw water. Typically, people would come to the well in the morning and evenings when the temperature was cooler. This woman, however, arrived at a time when no one else would be there. Later in the chapter, we learn that her immorality likely disgraced her, and she did not want to be seen at the well while other people were there. She was a marginalized person amongst marginalized people. This is the context in which we see the encounter between Jesus as the Samaritan woman.
Jesus initiated a conversation with the woman by asking for a drink. The woman was shocked and said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” (John 4:9). You see, Jesus is crossing cultural and social lines and confronting both racism and sexism at the same time. It was highly unusual for a Jewish man to initiate a conversation with a woman at that time, let alone a Samaritan woman. It was also shocking that Jesus was willing to use utensils that Samaritans used because they were seen as impure. Jesus went on to share with her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:13-14).
A Life Changed
This message harkens back to Isaiah 12:3, which says, “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.” Jesus is talking about eternal salvation in the future and about the life of heaven welling up in us while we live. Jesus not only wanted this woman to see her sin and shame but also to understand how the gospel impacts her life, community, and culture.
After encountering Jesus, the Samaritan woman dropped her water pitcher and ran back into town to tell everyone whom she had just talked with, the Christ. And what happened as a result? People began to believe because of her testimony. Jesus changed her life, and she wanted those in her town to have the same encounter. Jesus ended up staying in town for two days, and the text says that “many more believed because of his word.” (John 4:41). The people of Sychar, a town filled with marginalized people, joyfully received the gospel.
Living Out the Gospel
James 1:22 says, “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.” The gospel transforms our hearts, which is proven to the world by how the gospel transforms our actions. We are to be hearers and doers of the word, bringing Jesus to people and places that need him and his transforming power. As we hear and do, we grow in godliness—learning to love our Savior more and more each day.
The world is groaning right now because of a global pandemic, racial strife, political turmoil, natural disasters, and more. What does it look like for Christians to embody the gospel today? What does it look like to love God and our neighbors today? It takes risk to lovingly and compassionately engage and serve people as Christ’s hands and feet. The world needs Christians who are willing to take those risks, to share Jesus with sheep in need of a shepherd.
When we embody the gospel, communities are changed. Lives are changed. So, let’s spend time with Jesus at the well today, soaking in his goodness. Then, let us drop our water pitchers and run to share the good news of Jesus with a hurting world.